She looked like Charlize Theron. A beautiful woman and a nice person, I knew her enough to nod or wave. We never really spoke beyond an occasional good morning. She was married. She was like a lot of people in the neighborhood, another friendly and familiar face. We’re all extras in somebody else’s movie. For a while she appeared in mine.
How did I know her? We worked out at the same time during the week. She was a member of Gold Coast Fitness Center in Newark Avenue, which held its final day of sweat on the last Sunday in June. Most folks who exercise there know it as Carmine’s gym, because of the warm and outgoing proprietor, Carmine Colassurdo.
Technically, Gold Coast is not closing. Carmine is moving the gym a few store fronts west and renaming it Fit &Trim. There have been issues with the C.H. Martin basement location, as well as the bad economy and changing demographics of our city. In order to survive, Carmine is re-branding and introducing a new health club concept. I’m ready to give it a chance, see what develops. I’m pretty sure I’ll adapt. I’m confident the new health/fitness/wellness club will be as comfortable and welcoming—not to mentioned good natured and professional and most importantly, effective—as Gold Coast has been this past decade. Like the old, I’m sure the new version will embody the owner’s inviting personality.
The blue & gold logo has been a mainstay of Downtown J.C.’s main thoroughfare for what may seem like forever, but times change. Originally, the gym was located on Montgomery Street and called the 100 Club, and when it “re-opened” on Newark in January of 2000, it was one of the first of the “new J.C.” businesses on that street. Gold Coast was the name ambitious developers had given Jersey City. The term never entered wider usage. In the early 00’s, there were a lot of set backs to the inevitable gentrification and Gold seemed less applicable. I personally never liked the phrase. Newark Avenue begins at least an actual mile from the so-called coast, but more importantly, I just consider Coast to mean a shore line of an ocean, not a river bank. I guess it’s the coast of Hudson Bay depending on how you look at a map. I look at the map and see river bank. That’s just me.
Carmine once told me that people have different reasons to work out. Loose weight, relieve stress, doctor’s orders, etc., etc. That’s been certainly true for me. I’ve exercised for different reasons at different times. Enthusiasm for staying in shape waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows. Even with exercise, diet plays a big role and playing even a bigger role is genetics—and my family trends fat. Genes seem to insinuate themselves differently at different ages—your hairline recedes in your twenties, not in your teens or without any alteration in lifestyle or habits, you turn 30 and suddenly have a gut. I’ve gained and lost and gained and lost about 50 lbs, squeezed and expanded the waistline like an accordion through the years. What Carmine has helped me do is make exercise a constant component of my life. How big a component varies depending on the year. But since it remains, no matter how far I backslide, I’m no longer at square one when it’s time to jump back on the band wagon.
It is no exaggeration for me to say that this habit saved my life in the past six months, but that’s another story. I’ve come to realize that with a gym, you may come for the exercise, but you stay for the atmosphere and the people you meet.
What I think about when I think about this place, this space, this Gold Coast… this Carmine’s gym… is community. What does the idea of community really mean? I often ponder the implications. We live in a country, in state, in a city… we derive much of our identity from our residency. We are parts of several communities, and communities seem like concentric circles to larger conceptions—like nationality.
But how is the idea of community, and its complementary notion of identity, realized? I would suggest we realize the idea of community at the various points where community is manifested.
In other words, places were we can be with others who share something—a mind-set, a sensibility, a set of principles, or may just some similar experiences or a residence within a radius of a few miles. The how of a community is dependent on a where. Community is maybe just a fact of being in the same place. School, church, town meeting seem like the most obvious manifestations of community. When we line up to vote is another manifestation point. Art events, poetry readings are some of the newer concepts of community and I guess the local gym is one of the newer ones too. My parents never were members of a gym. Our souls, our selves, exist in bodies that need upkeep. Exercise is another commonality shared. Through this idea of community, a part of our identity grows. With community, we discover another part of ourselves and often, that very same community affirms that we share this part with others.
I can’t speak for the other gyms that opened downtown after Carmine proved there was a market here. I do know that Gold Coast had a wonderful cross-section of our community. At the time, Gold Coast’s basement location was upscale compared to the offerings at the time – grimy thug gyms. Those places have mainly disappeared from these parts. The other gyms that have opened seem perfectly okay, although maybe a little more exclusive than Carmine’s. I’m not interested in exclusive. Plus, I tend to be loyal. But I’m not here to promote anything, I’m just remembering a place that has been very special to many in this neighborhood for the past ten years.
I’ve met a lot of people, made a lot of friends, at Gold Coast. Some are passing acquaintances, many are close and likely life-long. Oh, there’s been a douche bag or two, but no more than that really. Countless others whose name I don’t know and who don’t know mine, but their faces are familiar and that’s good too. The familiar gives you a sense of ease and, a sense of home.
What strikes me is the diversity of the members of Carmine’s. Younger than me, older than me, same age. Blue Collar, White collar. All ethnicities. Born & Bred Jersey City folks, ex-pats form Europe, the mid-west. Mets & Yankee fans! Such an array is a typical summation of our city, but how many chances do we get to interact with each other, share the commonality when the differences, at least on the surface, seem to out weigh what we have in common.
It’s really something quite special if ordinary: a place to meet. I have nothing but gratitude to Carmine for the opportunity that has led to a multitude of interactions and many friendships. On any given day, you never know who you’ll meet there and shoot the breeze with. That’s nice. That in and of itself may not be community, but it sure seems like a place where community can start and be experienced.
The woman who resembled Charlize Theron? The angelic face I’ll never forget? It’s not because she was beautiful, even sexy. She was both. But that’s not why.
It was the morning of 9-11. I was at Gold Coast. Televisions with cable hook ups aligned the shelf in front of the elliptical machines. The gym was pretty crowded. I work out in the morning. At the time I had this pretty intensive weight lifting routine that could last upwards of two hours. If you remember that morning, there was a report of a plane hitting the World Trade Center. The news programs all had cameras trained on the famed skyscrapers. Everyone was wondering what was happening. The weights are in a different area than the cardio equipment, but I was making sure to look towards the TV screens for updates. I was doing bicep curls and she was in my view. Her arms and legs were pumping away. She was in a steady, fast-paced groove. Then she suddenly stops. She was instantly motionless. The second plane had hit. Her face froze in a look of horror. She quietly screamed. Her change in countenance was as abrupt as anything I’ve ever witnessed. Her look was now one of shock, fear, anguish.
That face started the whole 9-11 thing for me. Whenever I think of that morning, I see her visage. So much has happened since. So many deaths, more failures than successes, eight years of the most disgraceful administration in the history of our land; it’s hard to remember precisely the day of 9-11—the utter astonishment of that day, the sadness of days and weeks after. Jersey City is right across the river from Ground Zero. I went up the stairs from the gym to the sidewalk, huge column of black smoke billowed furiously in the horizon. Would the city be evacuated we wondered. At first I was like most Americans, watching a distant event on cable television that changed all our lives. Then after I left the gym, I was seeing people covered in dust wandering off the ferries docking down at Exchange Place. The reality was in my life, the horror of the facts no longer limited to TV.
I haven’t seen her in the neighborhood for years. She probably moved away. I think I remember seeing her pregnant before she disappeared. Remember where you were on 9-11? I do. I never have seen an expression so absolutely stunned. I never have seen beauty replaced so rapidly by something else. No one will ever forget that day, that morning. It was something felt by everyone in the community. The moment that a new era began to unfold, I was at Gold Coast... Carmine’s gym... a place where that community formed.